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Broadband's Impact

Jim Baller, Champion of Municipal Broadband, Fights the Fight for More Than 25 Years



August 1, 2020 — Jim Baller has dedicated much of his life to advocating for universal high capacity broadband.

Baller was inspired to become a broadband advocate when he had a lull in his practice as an energy attorney.

He began doing pro bono work for the American Public Power Association, a national association representing the interests of America’s 2,000 publicly-owned electric utilities, in the early 1990s.

During this time, Baller wrote a white paper for APPA comparing the emerging period in telecom to the period of electrification in the power industry.

APPA and many of its members were growing increasingly concerned that the history of the power industry would repeat itself in the telecom era. Many rightfully feared that phone and cable companies would focus on profitable urban markets, thus leaving rural communities behind in the emerging era of advanced digital communications.

Baller’s paper contributed to a national conversation about using the public power model to regulate the telecom era.

Screenshot of Jim Baller from a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event

In 1995, Baller and his colleagues began what would become a long, brutal fight against legislation preventing municipal broadband.

His attempt was able to impact the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

In response to a Texas law passed in 1995, when incumbent providers were first lobbying for states to adopt legislation against municipal broadband, APPA worked to get language inserted into Section 253 of the Telecom Act that they thought would stop state laws preventing municipal broadband once and for all.

APPA’s language declared that no state statute, regulation or other legal requirement may prohibit the ability of “any entity” to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.

When the decision reached the Supreme Court of the United States, in Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the Court found they “couldn’t be sure that Congress meant “any entity” to apply to public entities, and not just to private entities, so it therefore had to find that Section 253 did not authorize the [Federal Communications Commission] to preempt the state barriers in question,” Baller told Broadband Breakfast.

Attempting to shape a National Broadband Plan

But Baller did not give up on his quest.

In 2008, Baller and his colleagues began to work on a call to action, which they planned to send to whichever party won the 2008 presidential election.

Working on the document forced the coalition to drill down into their common values, goals and objectives. The crew went on to form the U.S. Broadband Coalition, establishing six committees to advise the new administration on major issues.

“There was so little understanding of the big picture at the time,” Baller recalled in a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event Wednesday.

In 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which reflected several of the ideas included in the call to action, such as the need for substantial federal support for broadband deployment and adoption.

Congress created the Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the Broadband Initiatives Program, the first significant federal broadband subsidy programs unconnected to the universal service fund. The measure also required the FCC to develop a National Broadband Plan.

While federal recognition of these demands was a big win for Baller and his colleagues, he did not stop his efforts there.

In 2014, alongside Joanne Hovis, Baller co-founded the Coalition for Local Internet Choice, which is now comprised of more than 600 organizations and individuals who support the authority of local communities to make choices surrounding broadband internet.

CLIC has participated in numerous battles over barriers to public broadband initiatives. Members often champion the importance of local broadband and defend municipal broadband against state governments.

Baller maintained that the availability of municipal broadband impacts “economic development, educational opportunity, public safety, access to affordable modern health care, smart transportation, energy efficiency, environmental protection, cost-effective government service and so much more.” He has written extensively on the relationship between broadband and economic development.

“It would be great if barriers to local internet choice were suddenly to disappear, thereby removing CLIC’s main reason for being,” Baller said. “Unfortunately, we do not see that happening anytime soon. So we’ll just have to keep up the good fight.”

Broadband's Impact

Tech Trade Group Report Argues for USF Funding from Broadband Companies

Consulting firm Brattle Group said in a report the move would be economically sound.



Screenshot of Chip Pickering, INCOMPAS CEO

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2023 – Tech company trade group INCOMPAS and consulting firm Brattle Group released on Tuesday a report arguing for adding broadband providers as contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

The USF spends roughly $8 billion each year to support four programs that provide internet subsidies to low-income households, health care providers, schools, and libraries. The money comes from a tax on voice service providers, causing lawmakers to look for alternative sources of funding as more Americans switch from phone lines to broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission administers the fund through the Universal Service Administration Company, but has left it to Congress to make changes to the contribution pool.

The report argues that broadband providers should be one of those sources. It cites the fact that USF funds are largely used for broadband rather than voice services and that broadband adoption is increasing as phone line use decreases.

“The USF contribution base needs to change to account for the fact that connectivity implies not just voice telephone services, but predominantly broadband internet access,” the report says.

It also rebuts arguments for adding tech companies like INCOMPAS members Google and Amazon to the contribution pool, saying they represent a less stable source of income for the program and that added fees for services like streaming could affect . 

The report is the latest salvo in an ongoing dispute between tech companies and broadband providers over who should support the USF in the future, with broadband companies arguing big tech should be tapped for funding as they run businesses on the networks supported by the fund.

Sens. Ben Lujan, D-N.M., and John Thune, R-S.D. established in May a senate working group to explore potential reforms to the program. The group heard comments in August  from associations of tech and broadband companies, each outlining arguments for including the other industry in the USF contribution base.

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Broadband's Impact

Florida Broadband Grants, Support for Microsoft-Activision, IQ Fiber Investment

Comcast, Conexon, and Cox received $247 million in Florida broadband grants.



Photo of fiber-optic installation from 2018 by CTA

September 18, 2023 – Service providers Comcast, Conexon, and Cox are receiving the biggest awards totaling $247 million in Broadband Grants in the state of Florida, Telecompetitor revealed Thursday.

Cox is receiving $80 million for 11 projects, Comcast is getting $60 million for 34 projects, and Conexon is receiving roughly $40 million. Additional companies receiving funding include, Charter Communications, AT&T, CenturyLink, Suwanee Valley Electric Cooperative, Consolidated, TDS, IBT, and Myakka, Telecompetitor noted. 

The state announced the $247 million in broadband grants this July, but did not include the names of the providers who would be providing the services.

The grants were made possible through Florida’s Broadband Infrastructure Program, which received funding through the Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund. 

Nine Amicus briefs filed in support of Microsoft’s purchase of Activision Blizzard 

Nine amicus briefs were filed Thursday in support of Microsoft’s $68.7 billion purchase of Activision-Blizzard by a group of parties that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Communications Workers of America among others.

The briefs come in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s attempt to appeal its loss against Microsoft to prevent the sale in the United States, alleging that Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision-Blizzard would allow it to manipulate access to Activision’s products for rival gaming consoles to Microsoft’s Xbox, therefore suppressing competition in the gaming industry.

“This Commission’s hostility to the procompetitive and efficiency-enhancing prospects of mergers is well-known—but the Commission’s position is not supported by merger case law,” said Bilal Sayyed, TechFreedom senior competition counsel, former director of the FTC’s Office of Policy Planning. 

Among the briefs released, five independent publishers and studios that included Curve Digital, Finji, iam8bit, Strange Scaffold, and Studio Wildcard – going under “amici”’ in support of the acquisition – hint the deal will positively benefit the development community.

“Amici are five independent companies, of all shapes and sizes, that publish or develop video games for a range of game-streaming platforms, including Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass service on Xbox,” the brief stated. “Thus having first-hand experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription and its effects on the market for independently published and developed games.

“While the FTC argues that the merger will stifle competition, amici have had precisely the opposite experience with Microsoft’s Game Pass service.”

In June 2022, the CWA was able to enforce a Labor Neutrality Agreement with Microsoft if the acquisition were approved. Under the agreement, workers with Activision Blizzard would be able “to freely make a choice about union representation.”

“While the labor neutrality agreement at Activision does not take effect until the merger closes, Microsoft has already proven its commitment to abide by the agreement by extending its provisions to its own employees,” CWA wrote on their website.

IQ Fiber starts construction of fiber-optic network in northwest Gainesville, $40 million invested in phase one of project

IQ Fiber has started its first phase of construction Friday, a $40-million investment to bring a fiber-optic network to the Northwest Gainesville and Alachua County in Florida.

The company, based in Jacksonville, is bringing its services to Florida’s Alachua, Duval, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties, which is its “first major network expansion outside of the Jacksonville region.”

IQ Fiber expects online service to be available for “a few” Northwest Gainesville neighborhoods near the start of 2024. 

Gainesville Mayor Harvey Ward said in a press release that extending broadband competition in the community was always a priority and is hopeful that IQ Fiber’s presence will provide a plethora of opportunities for the neighboring communities.

Since starting in 2021, the company has developed over 600 miles of fiber-optic cable across North Florida. 

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.



Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

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